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Jamaica Patois Wisdom - Elders

by Jefferson David Tant

The Jamaican Patois dialect is colorful, unique and humorous. It is my desire to share some of the philosophy shown in this mix of colorful phrases that are witty as well as thought-provoking. I hope the readers both profit and enjoy. In my quarter-century plus of teaching there, I have come to appreciate some things about their culture.

Patois: weh yu nuh know, oler dan yu

English: What you don’t know is older than you

Meaning: Take counsel from older folks

In giving instructions to Israel, among the many things Moses said to admonish and guide the people was this sage advice, “You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:32). I don’t know if Moses had gray hair at the time, but we do know he was at least 80 years old when he led Israel out of Egypt.

There is a reason God has entrusted leadership roles to those who are older. Church elders are obviously older. Paul’s words to Timothy include this: “An overseer, then, must be above re-proach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, … He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity” (I Timothy 3:1, 3). In Titus 1:5, these children are “believers.” It takes wisdom to raise godly children, and this is the point Paul makes. How do we know a man can lead the church? Look at his family—his wife and his children. Has he been able to guide them with wisdom.

In our culture, much of the respect for older people has diminished. Youth is idolized and no one wants to be considered as old. The saying has been “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Interestingly, those who came up with that idea in the Hippy age in the 60s and 70s are now well past that age. One wonders what they think about their “wise saying” now?

In both the Old and New Testaments, children are told to have respect for their parents. “Children, obey your parents in the lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:1-3, from Exodus 20:12). Exodus 20:17 gives a sure cure for juvenile delinquency: “He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” A few stonings would clearly get a message across.

Other cultures seem to have a greater respect for the wisdom that comes from age. I have witnessed this in Eastern cultures as in Japan, China, the Philippines and Malaysia. “The glory of young men is their strength, and the honor of old men is their gray hair” (Proverbs 16:31).

We need to teach our children and grandchildren to have respect for their elders. As God says, they know more than the younger generations, and young people can save much grief and trouble if they will consider the wisdom that comes from a life of experience. And this also means that those who are older should “act their age,” and not try to impress others with how young they think they can act. I remember seeing a middle-aged woman flouncing around in a tight outfit with a ton of makeup on and thinking, “There goes a 50-year-old teenager.”

The wise youth will respect the wisdom that comes with age. God said so.